‘I Can be the Person They Trust'

Kristy Gamboa knew she wanted to help people somehow.

It took a night sleeping in a makeshift cardboard box for her passion to come into sharp focus.

While working toward her Master’s Degree in Social Work at Cal State Fullerton, Gamboa and a team of fellow students planned and conducted an event called “Box City.” The students constructed and then spent the night in cardboard boxes in an effort to call attention to the plight of Orange County’s burgeoning homeless population. Funds raised through the event benefited Family Promise of Orange County, a nonprofit that serves homeless men, women and children.

“Social work really found me,” says Gamboa, who recently joined Hoag as one of three Community Care Navigators the hospital is recruiting to assist the county’s homeless community. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to help people who have experienced hardships.”

Gamboa was one of six children in a working-class family in El Monte. “Growing up, I didn’t have a lot of support, and I learned early how important it is to have a heart that wants to help other people,” she explains. “As a Hoag Community Care Navigator, I get to be there for people who are experiencing difficulties. I can be the person they can trust.”

After graduate school, Gamboa worked with the Veterans Administration in Los Angeles County, helping homeless veterans on Skid Row find housing. She realized quickly that, “at the end of the day every homeless person has a story to tell. More often than not they have experienced some type of trauma – whether it is due to alcohol, cancer, drugs, loss of work, or another event.

“Life happens and they don’t have the skills to navigate it. I admire the resilience of this population. They deserve to be treated like anyone else, with dignity and respect.”

Gamboa explains that the most rewarding part of what she does is when someone she is assisting tells her they are ready to get help. “You never know when that will be. We can’t give up on these people or pass judgment because you never know when they will be ready for help,” she says.

“I love when I can help patients find housing and I know I’ve made an impact in their lives.”

Describing herself as “super passionate” about helping Orange County’s homeless community, Gamboa says Hoag’s Emergency Department simply doesn’t have the resources necessary to support the large volume of homeless individuals who make their way to the hospital.

She is confident she and the other Community Care Navigators can make a difference. “Hoag has such a huge heart for Orange County’s most vulnerable residents, and I’m excited to be joining them to help address this problem.”